Singapore Jarrell, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev Orchestre des Continents, Louis Schwizgebel (piano) Thierry Fischer (conductor), Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore 22.07.2014 (RP)
Jarrell: 3 Etudes de Debussy
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18
Prokofiev: Excerpts from Romeo and Juliet Suites Op. 64 & Op. 101
Switzerland and Singapore’s’ partnership in classical music started in 2009 and has evolved into this remarkable endeavor with students from the University of Music, Geneva, the University of Music, Lausanne and the Yong Siew Ton Conservatory of Music, National University of Singapore. The Orchestre des Continents has been formed for two concerts, this one in Singapore and another later in the month in Nyon, Switzerland at the Paleo Festival. Swiss conductor, Thierry Fischer, Director of the Utah Symphony Orchestra was enlisted to conduct. Although not officially part of the Singapore’s upcoming 50th anniversary celebrations, it was nonetheless in keeping with the spirit of the occasion, while serving as a recognition of the special bond between the two countries.
The concert opened with Michael Jarrell’s 3 Etudes de Debussy dating from 1992. Jarrell is Swiss composer whose musical language is centered upon three central concepts – contrasting timbres, repeated notes, and chords. These correspond directly to the titles of the three of Debussy’s Études for piano that Jarrell chose as source material. Fischer led a taunt, transparent reading of the Etudes. The 12 minute composition was an effective curtain raiser to the concert and afforded the orchestra the opportunity to shine as it explored the sonorities and textures Jarrell uses in his reimagining of Debussy’s music.
Swiss-Chinese pianist Louis Schwizgebel is at the start of his career; garnering awards at competitions, debuts with important orchestras in Europe and the USA, and reaping praise from critics. From the ringing eight chords that open Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, through the beautiful, mournful melodies, to the majestic conclusion, Schwizgebel played with refined musicianship and elegant tone. Spare in his motions, he was nonetheless dreamily expressive in the extended passages where the piano serves as an accompaniment to other instruments. His playing was especially delicate in the interplay between the flute, clarinet and piano in the second movement. He has a subtle flare however, that was mirrored in his attire: a black suit and a black tie hung loosely around his neck, punctuate by the red flashes of his pocket handkerchief and the soles of his shoes. Those flashes of color and excitement make Schwizgebel a fascinating artist.
The orchestra’s lean sound which suited the Jarrell Etudes, did not bloom as it needed to in the Rachmaninov. The violins in particular sounded a bit thin. At times, Fischer had to work very hard to whip up a crescendo and maintain the energy in the more expansive, sweeping passages. Solo contributions, especially those of the flute, clarinet and horn were beautifully rendered. As a section, the horns overall had a bright, clear, ringing sound, that was evident throughout the concert. A certain lush, romanticism was missing, but Fischer nonetheless fashioned an emotive rendering of Rachmaninov’s beloved concerto. The audience showered applause down on the performers in appreciation.
The orchestra found more congenial ground in a compilation of various sections from two of Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet suites. Precision and clarity come naturally to both Fischer and these young musicians. With Fischer providing the fire, it all came together beautifully. Tybalt’s Death, which closes the First Suite in the natural order of things, contains the ballet’s most dramatic episodes, and the orchestra brought them vividly to life. Romeo at Juliet’s Tomb and The Death of Juliet were the two most poignant and sensitively played sections. Ending with the Montagues and Capulets, however, just did not ring true. Everyone knows the story. Why fuss around with it and end with swaggering rhythms and clashing sonorities, when such a beautiful spell had been cast? Trust the masters, whether Shakespeare or Debussy to more often than not get it right.